IN Depression-era America, dance marathons were the reality shows of their day.
Contestants would dance for weeks or even months on end, with only shorts breaks for food and sleep, in a desperate quest for the cash prizes on offer or a chance to be in the limelight.
Now these gruelling events have inspired a new show from Scottish dance theatre company Company Chordelia, in association with Scottish Opera.
The show comes to the north next week direct from an Edinburgh Fringe run which included five-star critical reviews for its recreation of these often brutal endurance contests.
"I’ve been fascinated by the dance marathons of depression era America for many years and it feels like a really relevant time to be exploring that," Company Chordelia artist director Kally Lloyd-Jones explained.
"During the Depression many people were really desperate — homeless, starving and destitute, so they entered the marathons not just for the prize money, but for the meals and a roof over their heads. For some, the conditions of the marathons actually seemed better than what they had."
Perhaps best known in Britain thanks to the 1969 Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, dance marathons were popular across the United States.
In some cases couples would receive only a two hour break for sleep and eat while they danced, until exhaustion — or even death in some extreme cases — forced them to drop out.
To recreate the sounds and images of the era Lloyd-Jones has enlisted music director Kennedy Aitchison to lead a six-piece jazz ensemble providing the music, with songs from the era, including Happy Feet, We’re In The Money and Irving Berlin’s Let Yourself Go, sung by soprano Nadine Livingston. Actor Harry Ward plays the event’s MC with a cast of 10 dancers playing the desperate contestants.
"The producers and MCs were in the business of getting the audience involved by having favourites and generating drama, just like reality television shows we have today," Lloyd-Jones added.
"Reality is manipulated for the audience and contestants are humiliated — there is a fascination with that question of how far people are willing to go. I hope that audiences will find the subject really interesting, but also ask questions about how it felt to be both a participant and an audience member."
• Dance Derby by Company Chordelia in co-production with Scottish Opera is at the Universal Hall, Findhorn, on Wednesday 28th August at 7.30pm, and Eden Court, Inverness on Thursday 29th August 2013 at 8pm.